Establishing a strong data management strategy within manufacturing

The manufacturing industry has been transformed by robotics, IoT, and other exciting new technologies in recent years. This change is happening on a huge scale. Digital transformation in the manufacturing market is forecasted to grow at nearly 20% a year to reach £554 billion by 2026, creating huge volumes of data that can help manufacturers make smarter decisions than ever before.

This data can be used by manufacturers to streamline workflows, create higher-quality products, and improve efficiency and responsiveness across the supply chain. However, it’s not just a case of reaping these rewards without putting the work in; manufacturers must consider how to manage and understand this data while keeping it secure. This can prove difficult for some, putting them under increasing pressure to become data management experts.

It can be hard to know where to start. Exactly what are the key elements manufacturers should be considering as part of a data management strategy? Following are some areas to focus on that will promote tight data governance, while also ensuring data generated insights have a positive impact on the business.

Break down data silos

Manufacturers who follow traditional organisational practices and procedures often have to contend with data silos. With an ever-increasing amount of data being generated, it’s easy for databases to be swamped with all sorts of duplicates and errors. When data storage systems become siloed, critical pieces of information can slip through the cracks.

Many departments only gather data that is relevant to them, making it hard to generate any value that will benefit the wider company. This means manufacturers are often left with different pockets of data that are irrelevant to other teams. Data needs to flow seamlessly so it is accessible by key stakeholders, regardless of job role, the devices they use, or their location. By breaking down these data silos, teams can operate in an environment that is more productive and efficient.

To prevent silos from forming in the first place, manufacturers should use a unified data storage system and make it the heartbeat of the overall data management strategy. This should come under an overarching company-wide data management policy. By clearly defining roles, assigning ownership, and giving employees clear instructions on how to handle data, manufacturers create a more sustainable strategy that will allow them to collect better, more accurate data.

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Audit, classify and ensure compliance

For manufacturers to extract the full value from their data, a great place to start is to audit existing databases to determine exactly what data points are being stored, what is not needed, and to then create a classification system to maintain this strategy. Making sure the right data is best organised can improve accessibility, while also making it easier to determine appropriate access levels and put together a plan to protect it as well.

Regulatory compliance is also critical: how is the organisation required to store, protect and delete data across all the geographies it operates in? In the EU and the UK, GDPR requires full transparency and minimal data collection. This means organisations have to specify what type of data they are collecting, what they’re doing with it and where it is stored. This is all balanced against the aim of trying to store as little data as possible.

Retaining and managing data manually runs the risk of errors or oversights that can spell potentially serious legal issues. To avoid these issues, manufacturers should use archiving software that allows them to automatically set retention periods and take the guesswork out of data compliance.

Mitigate security risks

There are two types of data security threats that manufacturers need to guard against. First, there are external threats, such as phishing scams and malware – which most manufacturers are aware of. However, it would be easy to overlook the fact that many security threats also originate from within an organisation. Careless or uninformed employees are the second most likely cause of serious security breaches, and more widely it has been found that internal actors carry out 30% of attacks within the manufacturing industry.

It is paramount that manufacturers foster a culture of cyber security awareness within their organisation. This enables employees to be educated on the potential threats, both internal and external, and the financial and reputational damage that could be caused. With clear guidelines and well defined policies, manufacturers can regulate data storage, control access to sensitive information, and improve protection. A good data management policy should clearly define safe practices for handling sensitive data, and prevent not only employee errors and leaks, but also ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

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Cover all data management bases

The more manufacturers rely on new technologies and analytics, the more critical that data becomes. That’s why data management is becoming increasingly crucial – ensuring data assets stay protected and accessible entails so much more than just having a few databases in place. To promote the highest standards of data management, manufacturers need to gain a strong grip over areas such as compliance and security, as well as ensuring processes are set up correctly.

It’s worth the effort. An organisation that can optimize the value of its data while keeping it secure can operate at a higher level of performance and efficiency. The end result is an ability to better collaborate thereby reaping the rewards the insights can bring without having to worry about falling short of compliance or losing valuable data within silos.

Written by Mark Hooper, technical director at iBASEt

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